Monday, June 30, 2008

Baseball Offense WAY Down in '08

Chalk it up to the steroid testing policy which wasn't beefed up--pardon the pun--until 2005 with worthwhile penalties (A first positive test resulted in a suspension of 10 games, a second positive test resulted in a suspension of 30 games, the third positive test resulted in a suspension of 60 games, the fourth positive test resulted in a suspension of one full year. Later that year, the penalties were changed to: first positive test, 50-game suspension; second positive test , game suspension, third positive test would result in a lifetime suspension from MLB), offense in baseball in 2008 has been noticably lower than in recent years.































Projecting runs scored for this year (22,192 runs) through the end of the season would yield the lowest total since 1997.





































Projecting homerun output this year through game 162 would give a total of 4788 homeruns. The lowest total since 1997.


The most glaring stat is the historical ERA numbers since 1996.







































While ERA has come down since it's peak in 2000, its continued to oscillate up and down somewhat since. However, the first sharp drop in ERA occurred in 2001, four seasons before the first real strict steroid penalties took effect and 2 years before testing began. Is this a result of steroid testing or just a function of the randomness of baseball?


So far, 2008 ERA numbers are on pace for the lowest level since the second expansion era began in 1993, that's 16 seasons.






























While homerun numbers are down 8% from 2006 to 2007 and a projected 3% from 2007 to 2008, Doubles are up 4% since 2003. What does this mean? Either steroid testing is working in that performance enhancing drugs aren't as prevalent as they were 10 years ago and/or the lack of pitching talent has weeded itself out of the big leagues since its dillusion due to expansion in the early and mid 1990s. Give it another couple of seasons to see if a trend develops from homerun hitting to doubles hitting and much lower ERAs.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Oldest Player to Play with Babe Ruth Turns 100

Baseball is a game of big, round, meaningful numbers. Bill Werber knows about that: He got exactly 200 hits in the 1934 season and here he is 74 years later, still around to talk about it.

Werber, the oldest living major leaguer, turns 100 years old on Friday.

"It appears," he said from a senior housing facility in North Carolina, "that I'm going to live past 100."

Werber played with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, with Jimmie Foxx and many others. He played for Connie Mack. He played on a world championship team with the 1940 Cincinnati Reds. He went fishing with Ted Williams. He was the first player ever to take an at-bat in a televised major league game. He was the first All-America basketball player produced by Duke University. And, even at 100, he can still remember almost all of it.

"That's because I'm intelligent," he said.

Bill Werber (sliding) played in the major leagues for 11 seasons, and won a World Series with the Cincinnati Reds in 1940.

Werber's career began in 1930, and ended in 1942. He played mostly third base for the Yankees, Red Sox, A's, Reds and Giants, hitting .271 with 1,363 hits, 78 home runs and 215 steals. In 1934 for the Red Sox, he batted .321 with 40 steals. He played the final seven years of his career in pain due to a damaged toe, but he never complains about that. On a daily basis the memories he collected from his 13-year career bring a smile to his face.

And no one makes him smile more than the mention of Babe Ruth.

"I was very fond of the big monster," Werber said. "He knew he was the adopted son of a bar owner named Ruth, he never knew his own mom and dad. He was kind to children. He signed autographs by the thousands. Kids would walk all over his white shoes and tan pants. It didn't matter. He would visit hospitals, and he'd never take a newspaper man or cameraman with him. I got a nice letter recently from his granddaughter. She sent me pictures."

Werber played two years with the Yankees and he and Ruth became close friends.

"Babe was a good bridge player," he said. "He knew all about it. [Yankee catcher Bill] Dickey and I were partners against Babe and Gehrig. We'd play on the train for 2½ hours. Babe used to give what he call "phonky" bids to irritate Gehrig. He liked to irritate Gehrig."

And teammates liked to irritate Ruth.

"They used to play tricks on the Babe," Werber said. "They'd nail his shoes to the floor. Or, they'd take the eyelets out of his shirt so his shirt would fly open. Babe made $80,000 a year. He'd get a check every two weeks for $7,500. Mark Roth, the secretary of our club, would put the pay envelopes on each player's stool in the locker room. He'd use scissors to open each envelope. Guys would take Babe's check out of the envelope and tape it on the mirror in the bathroom in the clubhouse. Guys would be combing their hair, or putting talcum in their jock, and there was Babe's check looking right at them. He'd leave it up there all day. When everyone was done, he'd take it down, and go on his way."

Werber never played with Ted Williams, but he knew him.

"I liked Ted," Werber said. "I told him a ghost story once on a train ride. It was a good ghost story. We sat Ted in a certain place so he could hear it. We had two other guys, Tom Connelly and Roger Cramer, placed strategically around Ted. At first, he didn't buy into it, but then he did. At the climax of the story, I yelled, 'I am the 12th man!', my eyes were dilated, my fingers were outstretched. Ted jumped in the air, then he beat me over the head."

Werber also visited Williams' home more than once.

"Ted was funny," he said. "We had dinner at his house after fishing with him one day in the Florida Keys. Ted had had a few too many martinis. We were with our friend, Dick Locker. Dick told Ted, 'You're going to have to talk a little louder to Bill, he's deaf.' Well, all through dinner, Ted thought that it was Mrs. Werber who was deaf. So, every time that Ted would say something, he'd lean across the table to Mrs. Werber and say, 'Did you hear what I said?' And Mrs. Werber would say, 'Yes, I heard what you said, Ted.'"

Werber said the highlight of his career was playing for the world champion Reds in 1940. Not only was that team a champion, but, Werber said, that team knew how to have fun.


"We had a second baseman named [Lonnie] Frey who had liver spots all over him," Werber said. "So I started calling him, The Leopard. He looked like a leopard. And he ran like a leopard. So I started a club on the Reds called The Jungle Club. Frey was the Leopard. I was The Jaguar. Our big first baseman was Frank McCormick. He was the better hitter in the league that year. He told me, 'I want to be in the Jungle Club.' I told Frank, 'But Frank, you don't hustle enough to be in the Jungle Club.' He said, 'If I hustle for a week, can I be in the club?' I said, 'Maybe if you hustle for a month, you can be in the club.'"

So, we were in Boston, he had a big game, and he took a couple of guys out for beers after the game. He said< 'Did I hustle good enough today?' I said, 'Yes, you did, Frank. We've decided to put you in the Jungle Club.' He said, 'What's my nickname?' I said, 'We have a suitable name. You'll be The Hippopotamus.' He said, 'I don't want to be The Hippopotamus. I want to be The Wildcat.' I said, 'Frank, you are a wildcat.' He ran out in the hall and said, 'I'm in the Jungle Club. I'm The Wildcat!' Things like that really help a ballclub play better, playing kid games."

It was with the 1940 Reds that Werber led off in the first game on television in baseball history.

"I didn't even know about it until four years later," Werber said. "I was walking through the country club where I was a member when this young fellow read out of a book of trivia that I was the first batter ever to bat in a televised game. And I didn't even know it."

Werber hasn't watched a game on TV in years.

"I don't watch any baseball anymore," he said. "I stopped watching because of Johnny Damon and, what's his name? Alvarez? … Ramirez? … Yeah, [Manny] Ramirez. He had that long hair thing going down the back of his neck. And Damon had that beard. I wrote a number of polite letters to [commissioner Bud] Selig. I don't believe in being abusive, that won't get you nothing. He wrote me some innocuous letter back. It didn't say anything."

Werber loved his career as a player, and he loved playing basketball at Duke, but being a very smart man, he knew baseball would only last so long. When he retired, he made a second career in his father's line of work: insurance.

"I made a $100,000 salary my first year out of baseball [working at New England Life Insurance]," Werber said. "Hey, that's $20,000 more than Babe Ruth made in his best season."

Bill Werber laughed heartily about that. After 45 minutes on the phone, recalling his favorite stories, Werber took a nap. At 100 years old, and lucid beyond belief, he slept well.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Time I Almost Got Arrested: PART I AND II

I drive into work at 3:30AM each day. Its wonderful having the road to yourself without traffic, without distractions and with a better than small chance of the cell phone ringing unless its my college brother texting me incoherent words as he nears unconsciousness after an evening of drinking cheap beer.

My 40 minute commute allows me time to reflect on current events, the weather (my job), family, quantum theory, stuff like that. Just a few days ago as I passed the only 24 hour Wendys on the interstate, my mind came across the vivid memory of my cross-country driving trip back in 1998 and the second one with my wife back in 2000. It seemed like an eternity ago. A time before 9/11, a time before kids, a time before 90210 went off the air. A time when my wife and I almost got arrested while allegedly sneaking into Zion National Park. All I need to say is: Hungry Girlfriend and not enough money. Ready for this?

When I conceived the idea of traveling across this great land via automobile with my wife, I had the experience of one other cross country trip under my belt spanning grueling stretches of vast interstates of Arizona and Colorado, volvanic ash covered roads of the Black Hills of South Dakota, the cotton fields of Mississippi and a town with a population of 7 in rural Wyoming of which I have a picture. My checklist for the trip included a Mag-Light, pocket knife, money and a Rand McNally among other things. I thought I had thought of everything until we got about half way through our trek when the unthinkable happened.

Driving up I-15 after leaving Las Vegas, I thought of the bright idea of hitting every National Park within 4 inches on my current position on the map. What I failed to take into account in my wave of exploratory impulsiveness was that in Utah, 4 inches on a map isn't a quick 1/2 hour drive like it is in, say Connecticut. Its a 4 hour odyssey!


All I saw on the semi-worn Rand McNally were the green pockets that indicated national parks and plenty of them ready for me to conquer. They gleemed like diamonds; the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; my reward after a long journey. My wife tried to convince me that this might not be a good idea but I wanted nothing of it. The conversation was like this as we thundered down the interstate at 77 mph (the speed limit is 75 in Utah):


Me: "Look at all of the sights we can see here in Utah!"


My Wife: "Lets try to prioritize what we want to..."


Me: "Hell, we'll be fine. We can hit Zion then right down the road is Bryce Canyon and then a little further east is Canyonlands National Park. No problem."


My Wife: "We better get something to eat before..."


Me: "There will be something near Zion; not to worrry."

That was the last thing we said to one another before we started down the road to oblivion.


10 miles....20 miles...30 miles...40 miles and no Zion National Park.


My wife: "We had better stop at this next rest area."


Me: "Just a little further..."'


Another 10 miles....and another 10 more...


My wife: "Uhhh, where is this Zion National Park? This had better be good because I'm freaking hungry!"


Me: "Almost there."


Another hour and a half and still no park.


You know those awkward moments when no one knows what to say or do. This fast became one of those times. The tension was mounting. The radio was off and I was seriously hoping for some sound to break the silence. Maybe we'd blow a tire or maybe a bird would hit the side mirror. Although she wasn't saying anything, I could feel my future wife crawling up the inside of the car in a despirate plight to locate food. I kept my mouth shut hoping that at the top of each rolling hill we approached marked the entrance to the park. We were out of crackers, the water was warm and our supply of gum was gone.


Finally, just over the horizon, Zion National Park appeared. I was relieved because at this point, my wife was licking gum wrappers frantically while mumbling a veritable plethera of expletives directed at the situation and me.


Don't get me wrong, she had every right to be mad. I acted a little too impulsive and now, we were in the middle of Utah with no sign of any park and my wife was hungry. I knew I was wrong but I ignored her and kept on driving with one hand on the wheel and the other hand on the door handle in the event I had to bail out.


We approached the ranger check-in station where you pay to enter. The only problem was that the brochure said it was $10 for a day, the sign at the station said $30.


Our conversation continued:


My wife: "What the f***!"
I feared for my life.


My wife: "We won’t have enough gas money to get home!"
The volume of her voice now escalating to the level that everyone within 20 feet of the car could hear her if the windows were down.


Me: "Alright. Let’s get up there and ask..." I was trying to frantically calm her down.
In a sarcastic tone, I made the mistake of saying: "Eat some crackers and relax."



My wife: "Goddamnit. this park had better be worth it!"
Although she didn’t say it, there was an implied "or else" at the end. I was visibly shaken.


We drove up to the window. The ranger said that the cost was indeed $30.


Once the amount was confirmed, amazingly nothing was said by either one of us. We were passed words. I purposefully didn’t make eye contact with my wife for fear that I’d either get "The Look" or I’d find her passed out in the passenger seat due to low blood sugar. Quickly taking hold of the situation, I told the ranger that we didn't have enough money and asked if we could turn around just beyond the gate and head back. He said sure.


There was a parking lot about 30 feet beyond the gate so I thought it would be better if I turned around there rather than do a "U’ie" in traffic. I pulled into the lot, decided at the last minute to stop, stretch and think about our next move after we exited the park. My girlfriend/future wife at this point was getting delusional and verbally confrontational with anything that moved. She was hungry and tired and at this juncture, according to her accounts a year later, the flowering tree and shrub in the grassy knoll near the parking lot appeared as a sandwich and chips. The garbage can--a chilled diet coke.


No sooner then I turned off of the car, got up and stretched out, a ranger officer pulled up behind the car.


My wife: "Holy sh**. So help me God, if he......."


Me: "Just be quiet. I’ll handle this."


The officer didn’t want to hear anything. I tried to explain but he wanted nothing but my ID. He ran a check on me presumably to make that I wasn’t a convicted felon.


My wife stood up out of the car and almost started ripping into the ranger. As she stood up out of the car, my life flashed before my eyes. In her present state of dehydration and malnurishment, her poorly chosen words would easily have gotten us both arrested. Thank goodness, she backed down and/or lost the will to fight. Either way, the ranger found that my record or lack thereof was not a threat so he told us to leave the park now in no uncertain terms. He escorted us out of the park as my wife threatened to impale me with a plastic fork.


Finally after 35 minutes retracing our driving, we found a Subway restaruant, ordered a few subs and calmly devoured them in roughly 90 seconds.


The moral of the story: When embarking on a trip without putting much thought into it, make sure your girlfriend or wife has a full stomach and is not thirsty.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The time I almost got arrested back in '98: PART I

ABOVE: X MARKS THE SPOT



I drive into work at 3:30AM each day without traffic, without distractions and with a better than small chance of the cell phone ringing unless its my college brother texting me incoherent words as he nears unconsciousness after an evening of drinking cheap beer.


My 40 minute commute allows time to reflect on current events, the weather (my job), family, quantum theory, stuff like that. A few days ago during my commute just as I passed the only 24 hour Wendy's on the interstate, completely out of the blue, my memory suddenly dug up memories of my cross-country driving trip back in 1998 and the second one with my wife back in 2000. Seems like an eternity ago. A time before 9/11, a time before kids, a time before 90210 went off the air. A time when my wife and I almost got arrested while "allegedly" sneaking into Zion National Park.



All I need to say is: Hungr girlfriend and not enough money. Ready for this?


When I conceived the idea of traveling across this great land via automobile with my wife, I had the experience of one other cross country trip under my belt spanning grueling stretches of vast interstates of Arizona and Colorado, volcanic ash covered roads of the Black Hills of South Dakota, the cotton fields of Mississippi and a town with a population of 7 in rural Wyoming of which I have a picture. (Now, population of 1 as of 2000)

My check for the trip included a Mag-Light, pocket knife, money and a Rand McNally among other things. I thought I had thought of everything until we got about half way through our trek when the unthinkable happened.

Driving up I-15 after leaving Las Vegas, I thought of the bright idea of hitting every National Park within 4 inches on my current position on the map. What I failed to take into account in my wave of exploratory impulsiveness was that in Utah, 4 hours on a map isn't a quick 1/2 hour drive like it is in, say Connecticut. Its a 4 hour odyssey!


All I saw on the semi-worn Rand McNally were the green pockets that indicated national parks and plenty of them ready for me to conquer. They gleamed like diamonds; the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; my reward after a long journey. My wife trying to convince me that this might not be a good idea.



The conversation was like this as we thundered down the interstate at 77 mph (the speed limit is 75 in Utah):